Wednesday 11 April 2018

Does writing this make me antisemitic?

BelperStuff has been quiet for the past few months because a blog that seeks to spotlight the absurd in political life just cannot compete with the lunacy of politicians who deliberately lampoon themselves. Take for instance the former Tory health minister who introduced a whole raft of nonsense on the NHS, who now blames government cuts for the failure to diagnose his cancer at an earlier stage .................... well I don't wish illness on anybody but even I could not have invented a more stupid volte-face.

Now though, I feel compelled to investigate the claims that the Labour Party is inherently antisemitic. I think of myself as being an average sort of Labour member, a bit of an activist at election time, turn up at a few branch meetings and sometimes turn up at conference. Oh and of course there is this blog. It was the other morning whilst standing outside the butcher shop in Crich at a Support the NHS event that my thoughts turned to racism; a fellow member saying to me that he’d never witnessed any antisemitism in the Labour Party. I looked around at the beauty of a Derbyshire village and realised that I hadn’t experienced it either but there it is slapped all over the news that Labour has a serious problem at its very core. Later, listening to the radio I heard a Labour MP say that if you tried to defend Labour’s record on antisemitism then that meant that you were also antisemitic. Up until that point I was content on letting our elected betters get on with dealing with the issue but being told that any attempt at trying to find out the truth of the matter would brand me as being racist was like a red rag to a bull.

A couple of days later I was in St.Pancras station, the grandchildren being handed over to me for their half term week in Derbyshire. On the train journey south I had started writing this post and I mentioned it as we ate our lunch before catching the train back to Derbyshire. My daughter (who is married into a Jewish family) urged me not to do it, “whatever you write will be wrong so don’t even go there”. My grandchildren (yes obviously both Jewish), once alone with me on the train urged me to write about the subject,”we know you can make sense of it”. The trust grandchildren place in their grandparents is a wondrous thing.

The half term week flew by and I had allowed laziness to stop me writing but then I was brought up sharp by the second demonstration against Labour antisemitism on Sunday, just two days ago. I had written a blog post entitled “The wrong type of Jew” which commented on Jeremy Corbyn choosing to attend the Jewdas seder and being “outed” by Guido Fawkes for being with …….. well ……. the wrong type of Jew. (see here an article in the Haaretz online newspaper) and also (here for a wonderful article written by Charlotte Nichols) It now looked somewhat dated so I deleted it, determined to write something with a bit more substance. I was thinking, if I am going to avoid being branded antisemitic then I should strive for objectivity. The idea came to me that using Jewish sources of information would be a positive move and so two days of reading the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News online, Haaretz and the websites of the Community Security Trust, the Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA), the Institute of Jewish Policy Research ...........  followed and here we are. Am I any wiser? Some would say that writing this post proves that I am not.

It has though been an interesting journey and I have learnt from UK Jewish sources that

the very left-wing, and, in fact, all political groups located on the left, are no more antisemitic than the general population (3.6% holding at least one antisemitic view)” and that, “looking at the political spectrum of British society, the most antisemitic group consists of those who identify as very right-wing. In this group about 14% hold hard-core antisemitic attitudes ………. “. 

This comes from a report written by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in 2017 which is embraced by the Jewish Chronicle and the Community Security Trust (CST). Armed with this information I found myself wondering why it was that the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies and the CAA felt compelled to organise demonstrations against the Labour Party and specifically Jeremy Corbyn. The evidence from the JPR would suggest that there was more to protest about on the right wing of politics.

The JPR report mentions that the average British Jew equates criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism. I think it’s well understood that there are many on the left who have sympathy for Palestine and it does appear from the JPR research that on this point there is a disconnect between the left and many in the Jewish community. Such a shame as without a proper dialogue about this most basic of stumbling blocks to peace in the middle east we are condemned to unending conflict.

Problems within the Labour party

My researches into Jewish news sources did throw up some disturbing incidences of Labour Party antisemitism which I am glad to say were properly dealt with (suspensions and expulsions) but there were also a number of careless remarks or use of social media where leading Labour figures should have known better. I pay my dues to the Labour party because I want our top team to strive for a better, more equal and just society but I am frankly appalled when their behaviour falls to a level that undermines Labour success at the polling booth. As the JPR says, 

the left tends to see itself, and is commonly regarded, as an anti-racist and egalitarian political group, both in terms of its political goals and its modus operandi. This image tends to impact on people’s expectations of the left or, at the very least, draws attention to how well (or otherwise) it performs in relation to its own proclaimed values”. When our standards slip it is all the more noticeable.

Yes the Labour Party must do better but our shortcomings were not of a magnitude that justified two very public demonstrations organised by the Jewish establishment egged on by the CAA. Does questioning this make me antisemitic? There are certain Labour MP’s who say that it does.

We should have implemented the Chakorabaty report in full and I do wonder why this didn’t happen. Perhaps our internal wrangling has caused us to take our collective eye off the ball. There is also the commitment to rule changes following the vote at conference last September. We must press on with this as a matter of urgency.

Most Labour Party members are like me, they hate racism, see the person rather than the stereotype and wish no ill will upon anyone. Our leaders and elected members should embody the same. I do feel a sense of being let down by the constant infighting of MP’s. They must do better. Definitely stand up for human rights throughout the world and criticise Palestine and Israel if needs be but be even handed and objective. A careful study of the Labour Party Rule Book - Appendix 9,  would also be a positive step. (See the bottom of this post for an extract).

We in Labour have a job to do. We have to confront the 3.5% both within and without our party. We are firmly against racism in all of its evil forms and we must all work together to stamp it out wherever we find it.   

Now to a digest of my researches:

Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA)
This is the group that organised the second demonstration against Labour antisemitism on Sunday 8th April.

CAA details:
Chairman – Gideon Falter
Director of Organisation and Finance – Anonymous (who might this be?)
Director of Investigations and Enforcements – Steven Silverman

CAA is a charity (listed on Charity Commission website) with some funding from the US Natan organisation in 2015. Nothing intrinsically wrong with Natan but a grant to the CAA looks out of place. (Natan seems to be a very altruistic and well meaning group). I'm not very impressed by Falter and Silverman and I do wonder that one of the directors is anonymous.

CAA listed investigations

The CAA website lists the investigations they have undertaken. The incidences relating to political parties are as follows:

Labour Party – 39
Conservative Party – 4
BNP – 2
Green party – 5
Lib Dems – 5
SNP – 2
UKIP – 5
Others – 2

The CAA therefore suggests that the Labour Party has a much deeper problem with antisemitism  when compared with other parties but, looking for evidence of this from other sources such as the Institute for Jewish Policy Research it is a position that is hard to maintain.

Community Security Trust (CST)

The main organisation for the protection and promotion of UK Jewish life is the Community Security Trust (CST) with cross party affiliations. The CST website has two references to the CAA with one article cross posted with Left Foot Forward which contains:

“When the new grassroots group the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) took a non-Jewish journalist to spend an entire day last month walking the streets of London wearing a kippah (skullcap) and a hidden camera, hoping to expose the dark underbelly of British antisemitism, he failed to elicit a single hostile comment from passers-by.”

The CST also link to an article in the Jewish Chronicle which highlights the biased and unscientific methodology employed by the CAA which contains:

“Assessing UK antisemitism is not a suitable subject for propaganda games. Last week a new Jewish pressure group called Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) rushed out a deeply flawed report following the outrages in Paris. This presumably was to take advantage of the prevailing panic to gain publicity for unfounded statements about a “tsunami” of Jew-hatred in Britain. If headline-grabbing was the aim, it certainly succeeded.
The community’s leading research body, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has justifiably condemned CAA’s publication as “incendiary” and “irresponsible”. The JC (Jewish Chronicle) has published considerably less alarming findings from its own, more reliable research”.

Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).

This institute, refered to as JPR, is a well established and respected organisation. Established in 1941 it has built up a reputation of reliable and objective analysis of Jewish issues such as antisemitism.
They published a report in September 2017 entitled, “Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain”.
I urge you to download and spend some time with this report ……….. in fact I think we should all read it, irrespective of our political inclination. The report is 85 pages of carefully laid out research but the heart of the matter is contained in the conclusion where we read:

"Looking at the political spectrum of British society, the most antisemitic group consists of those who identify as very right wing. In this group about 14% hold hard core antisemitic attitudes and 52% hold at least one attitude, compared again to 3.6 and 30% in the general population. The very left-wing, and in fact, all political groups located on the left, are no more antisemitic than the general population.
 This finding may come as a surprise to those who maintain that in today’s political reality, the left is the more serious, or at least, an equally serious source of antisemitism, than the right. Indeed, Jewish victims of antisemitic violence or harassment identify Muslims and the far-left as the chief perpetrators. This perception is not limited to victims of antisemitism. Three academic studies on the topic of left-wing antisemitism have been published over the past two years, clearly indicating that the perception that the left has an issue with antisemitism is quite prevalent in the minds of Jews and scholars of political sociology and history. Is this view misguided or rooted in error? Not quite. It is simply insufficiently precise.
The left tends to see itself, and is commonly regarded, as an anti-racist and egalitarian political group, both in terms of its political goals and its modus operandi. This image tends to impact on people’s expectations of the left or, at the very least, draws attention to how well (or otherwise) it performs in relation to its own proclaimed values. We found that the left (including the far-left) is no less antisemitic than the general population. This is not a trivial finding, as it runs counter to the left’s self-proclaimed ethos. When the expectation is to find less antisemitism than elsewhere, the finding of ‘just the same’ level of antisemitism as elsewhere is likely to be noticed by politically attuned individuals. Simultaneously embarrassing the left and being used as a weapon by it critics, this dissonance becomes the centre of attention and gets accentuated.
That, however, is not the whole story. The prevalence of antisemitism on the far-right is considerably higher than on the far-left. However, in the context of realistic social encounters, it is not only the prevalence of antisemitism within the group that matters, but also the size of the group on the political map. While 14% of the far-right are strongly antisemitic, the far-right constitutes just 1.4% of all British adults. By comparison, while only 3-4% of the far-left are strongly antisemitic, the share of the far-left in the British adult population is higher (3.5%). The political centre is indistinguishable from the general population when it comes to strong antisemitism, but it is a heavyweight political group in the population: 30-40% of British adults self-define as belonging to the centre”.

The CAA and JPR offer wildly different analyses and the methodology employed by the JPR makes their report far more authoratative. The CAA is obviously not trusted by the CST and Jewish Chronicle nor the JPR but still it managed to mobilise 500 to demonstrate against Labour last weekend. It was not pleasant to see Maureen Lipman railing against Labour’s antisemitism and that she would henceforth be voting Tory. There were also chants of, “Vote Conservative” from the crowd so I do wonder about the motives behind calling for a second event. We had enough of the racist bile of the Zac Goldsmith mayoral campaign and now, a year on once again racist slurs against Labour in London just before an election.

One last point; what are the relevant rules that govern the Labour Party:

Extract from the Labour Party Rule book

Appendix 9 NEC Codes of Conduct
All codes of conduct and NEC statements form part of the agreed relationship between individual Labour Party members, and set the minimum code of conduct expected by the Party of all its members. The NEC may supplement or amend these codes of conduct at any time. Further codes of conduct exist relating to internal elections, selections and other matters. These may be found in the rule book or on the Labour Party website at
1. Code of Conduct: Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination. The Labour Party is the party of equality and has fought to ensure that society provides equal opportunities for all and will continue to do so. Labour strongly believes that no one should feel disadvantaged, discriminated against or harassed due to their gender either inside the party or in the wider society. The Labour Party understands that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that takes place when someone is subjected to unwelcome and unwanted sexual behaviour or other conduct related to their gender. This can range from inappropriate comments to assault, can be verbal, non-verbal or physical and can take place both in person or online. The Labour Party will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment. Labour is committed to ensuring the party is a welcoming environment for all who share our aims and values to engage in political activity and debate without feeling disadvantaged or unsafe. Any behaviour that is perceived to discriminate against or harass another due to their gender has no place within the Labour Party.
2. Code of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism The Labour Party is an anti-racist party, committed to combating and campaigning against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Labour will not tolerate racism in any form inside or outside the party. The Labour Party will ensure that the party is a welcoming home to members of all communities, with no place for any prejudice or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion. The Labour Party welcomes all who share our aims and values, and encourages political debate and campaigns around the vital issues, policies and injustices of our time. Any behaviour or use of language which targets or intimidates members of ethnic or religious communities, or incites racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, or undermines Labour’s ability to campaign against any form of racism, is unacceptable conduct within the Labour Party.
3. Code of Conduct: Social Media Policy National Executive Committee Statement A starting point for all our actions as members of a party and a movement is to treat all people with dignity and respect. This applies to all our dealings with people, offline and online. Everyone should feel able to take part in discussion about our party, country and world. We want to maximise this debate, including critical discussion, as long as it does not result in the exclusion of others. Abusing someone online is just as serious as doing so face to face. We stand against all forms of abuse and will take action against those who commit it. Harassment, intimidation, hateful language and bullying are never acceptable, nor is any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Any member found in breach of the above policies will be dealt with according to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party. We wish to build a diverse movement that reflects the whole of society, so should always consider how our actions and words may limit the confidence or otherwise exclude either those less knowledgeable than ourselves or those already under-represented in politics. Those with privilege, whether due to their volume of experience, party position or status in society should have regard to how their actions may be felt by those in different circumstances to themselves. It is perfectly possible to have vehement disagreements without descending into personal abuse, shaming people or exhibiting bullying behaviour. Forcefully made points and criticisms of the political views of others are totally legitimate, personal attacks are not. Debates amongst party members should be comradely, acknowledging that whatever our diverse views, we are one party with shared goals. Derogatory descriptions of the positions of others should be avoided. Anonymous accounts or otherwise hiding one’s identity for the purpose of abusing others is never permissible. The use of sexualised language or imagery, and unwelcome sexual attention or advances are not acceptable, nor is the publishing of others’ private information without their explicit permission. We should not give voice to those who persistently engage in abuse and should avoid sharing their content, even when the item in question is unproblematic. Those who consistently abuse other or spread hate should be shunned and not engaged with in a way that ignores this behaviour. We all have a responsibility to challenge abuse and to stand in solidarity with victims of it. We should attempt to educate and discourage abusers rather than responding in kind. We encourage the reporting of abusive behaviour to the Labour Party, administrators of the relevant website or social media platform, and where appropriate, to the police. This is a collective responsibility and should not be limited to those who have been subjected to abuse. Trolling, or otherwise disrupting the ability of others to debate is not acceptable, nor is consistently mentioning or making contact with others when this is unwelcome.

......... and for comparison the Conservative Party Rule book

I could find nothing in the Tory rule book that referred in any way to the issues that are so clearly laid out in the Labour rulebook. Please correct me if I am wrong.

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